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Tualatin PD, OLCC sting alcohol sales

Tualatin police cite one waitress for serving
by: Jonathan House, BUSTED — Sgt. Royanne Mathiesen of the Tualatin Police Department instructs an underage decoy on what can be carried in her pockets during a night of alcohol stings.

TUALATIN - Two boys got a tongue lashing at one restaurant and a look of wonderment at another restaurant. One waiter in a fitness club bar simply served the underage boys two glasses of water rather than the beer they had requested.

It initially looked as though the city of Tualatin might have a perfect compliance rate during the Tualatin Police Department's recent alcohol sting with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

But at the end of the night, one Tualatin waitress read the birth date wrong on an underage decoy's driver's license and served him a glass of beer.

Without speaking, the decoy got up and met police outside. Tualatin officer Mark Louka followed behind him; Louka had witnessed the serving of alcohol to a minor. The two waited outside for a patrol officer to arrive to write the ticket.

Peggy Mullen, an inspector with OLCC, also waited outside so that she and police could talk together with the owner of Wong's Chinese Restaurant.

The waitress, a 41-year-old Tualatin woman, was written a criminal citation for furnishing alcohol to a minor. She will have to appear in court.

The owner Jenny Wong was later issued a fine. But since Wong's restaurant is enrolled in the state's Responsible Vendor Program, Wong's fine was reduced by about $1,000 to $660, Mullen said.

'It's all in order to get compliance,' said Tualatin Sgt. Royanne Mathiesen of the department's regular involvement with the OLCC alcohol stings.

Seven years ago when Tualatin first began to participate in decoy stings, Mathiesen said compliance among Tualatin businesses for not selling alcohol to minors was poor.

The last Tualatin sting netted two area businesses that were not compliant. The latest random sting on Jan. 31 netted only one business. (In a random sting a certain number of businesses are chosen at random and targeted by the compliance stings.)

'Compliance right now as far as not selling to minors is phenomenal (in Tualatin),' Mathiesen said.

In 2006, OLCC conducted decoy operations at 1,608 businesses throughout the state. OLCC had 368 businesses sell to underage decoys during those stings. Some police departments opt to conduct their own alcohol stings without the help of OLCC, Mullen said. So a complete number of how many stings are held each year throughout the state is harder to gauge.

The OLCC and the police departments have strict guidelines to follow in conducting alcohol stings. The underage decoy can't use a fake ID or lie about his or her age. The decoy must look to be between the ages of 18 and 20 and must dress casually and appropriately for his or her age.

If a business does serve alcohol to a minor, local police are responsible for writing a criminal ticket to the person who sold the alcohol, and OLCC handles the penalty for the business. A first time offense means a fine of $1,650, Mullen said.

And while Mathiesen and Mullen noted the importance of the stings to keep compliance among businesses, they admit it can be mortifying for an employee who just made an honest mistake.

'It's just like the blood rushes from their face and their shoulders drop,' Mathiesen said. 'Most of these people are good people, and it wasn't an intentional act to sell alcohol to minors.'

The waitress at Wong's laughed nervously as police confronted her in the restaurant parking lot following the illegal sale.

'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I wasn't paying attention. Sorry.'

As part of the Responsible Vendor Program, in which Wong's is already enrolled, employees are required to complete an educational program and class before being able to sell alcohol. Signs are supposed to be posted in the business reminding patrons and employees of the legal requirements for selling alcohol.

As Mullen briefed Wong on the fine the business would be charged for the sale of alcohol to a minor, Wong was polite and assured Mullen that whatever fine was advised she would pay.

'This is a business,' Wong said as the Tualatin officers and Mullen left the restaurant. 'We make mistakes.'